my traveling body   tania hammidi

 

(Laura introduces Tania).

"Our next performer is Tania Hammidi Farha emphasizes the Arabic pronunciation of the last name. Tania lived in the Bay Area for a few years, and is now living in Irvine studying for her Ph.D. This piece is about the body and violence. She is going to read some poems, and, I think, sing a song."

(Tania comes on stage with typed notes, dressed in black leather pants, 8-inch high boots, a maroon shirt and wool cap, red leather vest, a gold tie, and mid-leg fake leopard skin jacket. Facial hair includes sideburns and goatee).

(Walks up to the mike, burps.)
"Salut." (meaning, "hi" in French).

(Walks around on stage, reapproaches mike, and says,)

"I am twelve years old."

(Then begins introductory incantation: Ani Difranco's version of "Amazing Grace," done acapella. Center stage left. This is for warm up and stage-occupation purposes. The singing is not necessarily good, but from the view of the performer, the audience is attentive and supportive. The MC laughs behind the curtain, in full view of the performer, but shielded by half curtain from the audience.)

"Amazing Grace / How sweet / the sound / that saved / a wretch / like me / I / once / was lost / but now / now I'm found / 'twas Grace / who set / me free ....."

(Performer walks up to the microphone. No cues as to who or what is character, save the costume, made emphasis by heavy signifiers of style, what biz to wear a fake-leopard skin jacket.... Sense that the audience is remotely pleased, in spite of movements which are not tight necessarily tight. Is this spoken word? Vaudeville? Character acting? What Sandra Bernhardt says is true: "Without you I am nothing"

(her video by the same name, worth seeing once, certainly for her rendition of "Me and Mrs. Jones."):

should the audience not be pleased, the performance would have been entirely different for this everything-reads-as-white performer, on stage as arab-am. In archival terms, the digital documentation of the event suggests that this everything-reads-as-white queer butch must be arab-something, no? Those Lebanese, living in a port city, cosmopolitan lifestyle, where did the blond come from?)

(Into the mic, forcefully,) "This is a map of my traveling body. This is about being cut off from what gives you life. Virtuality. Can't live with it. Can't live without it."

(Sound has been cued by the performer and the audio that comes up is spoken word, male voice, deep. It says, "Let the word go forth here and now that the struggle for freedom is alive, and the story of that struggle is still being told ...." Volume creeps up as statement flows.)(Arwyn). (Performer, with cap off now)

"Thunnnnnddddeeerr Niicccckkkkoooolllooddddeeannnn Hammmmiiiiiiddddiiiii." (with arms stretched above head.)

"Je m'appelle Tania. Moi, je suis une femme. Et un garcon. Un homme. Un bonhomme. Lesbian. Lebanese. Libano." (The mic usage is spotty here, in reality, this is due to minimal mic experience, combine with fear. To claim Lebanese in the beginning, when mixed-race, white-skinned, Europeana Arab-Am, one learns to grow into it. Claiming 'lesbian' in a full mic by now has become familiar, due in large part to Ellen Degeneres' stellar 'coming out' episode in which the character Ellen accidentally keys the loudspeaker/mic at the airport, at the moment that she says to the woman she digs (whom she previously did not know she dug, "I am gay.").

(performer, with notebook in hand, gesturing with the other, stepping from one boot leg to the other in spoken word fashion,)

"En Francais, et en Anglais. I learned to be Arab / split Am, country / split dancer, papa / split mama, brother / split sister, body ...boy ... boy ... ohhhhh boy / split girl, manboy, Liban, in three languages."

(the musical accompaniment is back to spoken word, in competition with spotty-miked performer. Detailing,) "Francais, Anglais, Espanol."

(Pointing.) "That is Cornel West. Intellectual. Glasses. Short hair. Black man. (gesturing). Do you know how many spoken word women at the racks at Amoeba Records there are?" (waits). "Two." "Maya Angelou. Nikki Giovanni. (pauses). We gotta get out there women. NEXT PIECE. NO BREAK. JUST FLOWING NEXT W/OUT CHARACTER CHANGE.

"Listen, I justify left. I am training myself to read this way. European letters. Alphabet that I know. But reading the way that my body wants me to: (demonstrating with hands reading a big scroll in the sky). That takes some time." "I remember the first time I saw an American newspaper. I was still..... I'm blanking on where the hell I was. Somewhere in Southern California. And someone had told me to pick up the newspaper, we had just paid for it (a country drawl slips in...)"

(performer steps away from mic, center left, signal new character, squatting in front of an imaginary pile of newspapers, looking at the imaginary person at the mic. Partial back to audience now.) "Which one?"

(yells in small kid's voice)

(walks back to mic, new character, impersonation of father, businessy tone, gesturing with right hand)

"Go ahead, pick them up, yeh, yeh, those..." (back to kid's position) "All of them?!" (in disbelief / incredulity)

(Back to mic, switching into narrator-self character)

"It was a Sunday. You know how those Sunday papers are, like... " (and gestures a big fat pile.)."

(walks back to kid site)

"Uhhmmmfff hmmmmmffffff" (picking up large heavy pile, still in disbelief)
(walks back to mic, narrator-self)

"I was like, I didn't understand what they were going to do with ALL THOSE NEWSPAPERS. What the fuck, man? Actually, I didn't curse, I was, like, ten years old." SLIGHT SEGUE INTO NEW PIECE. "Where is my map? My map is my body. This body, here (hitting self at chest and midriff.) right here. I have always been here (gesturing to stage). I just, only, could not see me. I could see me, I could not see me. I didn't know where I was." "Rapping is philosophy. You know that, right? There is a connection between Trinh Minh-ha and rap. She is a musician. She used to be a musician. Filmmaker Trinh T. Minh-ha : "Living is Round.", "Re/Assemblage," "Surname Viet, Given Name Nam." If you listen to her movies, it is rhythm. (Cues sound). (Sound comes up, it is an electric guitar, echoing. It's Le Tigre.) NEXT PIECE. "Do you know how they walk in L.A.?

(papers go to floor, jacket is un-buttoned, performer is now demonstrating how people walk in Los Angeles, California.) (This is where the leather pants are meant to come in handy: with their close-fitting qualities, signaling the curves in this body. The jacket is meant to create a kind of balance to an otherwise now-exposed curvy hip, butt, etc. with its play of exposure. The emphasis of the walk in on performer's ass and chest (small as it is). Whether this all translates is the stuff of performance.) "I am losing my language. My body, is changing. It is changing at the knee. It is changing at the other knee. It is changing at my back. It is changing at my belly. And my butt." (hitting body parts at each location). "I got an ass (smack) when I moved to L.A.!"

(There is a gesture towards the comedic here. What the performer is grappling with, however, is the gendering of a butch queer body by the feminizing likes of Southern California. Visually, these contradictions might be clear.)

"My feet hurt ... ALL THE TIME. Moving somewhere / sucks / balls." (yelling away from mic.) (in the mic,) "I think it is relevant."

(Moving away from mic, dancing with the music, which is now uttering the chorus of the song, which is: "Tres Bien. Tres Bien..." Air guitar.)

(Song off) Performer attempts to tell a joke about the linguistics slips between lesbian and Lebanese.

NEW PIECE. "What do you get when you fall in love?" (singing). (now, in a quotey voice) "It is important to fill revolutionary society with everything that is beautiful, for beauty endures, and is the best manifestation of authenticity. That is Umm Khulthum." (drink some water). (miscues sound. Performer goes back stage to get a chair. Places it stage left. Has a conversation with the camera person and reorienting video machine to be able to capture two performers on stage). (Melinda) "I would like to introduce Hannan. She is going to help me with this song." (Person, Hannan comes up to the stage and sits in chair. She has a globe in her hands.) "This is a song about..." (performer is searching pockets for paper. One pocket, the next, ..) "This is a song about ..." (again) "This is a rock n roll song, mannnnn" (rock n roll voice). "We like rock n roll. I got the babe.... (looks at Hannan). She's got the whole world, in her hands, she's got the whole world, in her hands ...." (singing). (Hannan, like I said, is holding the globe. Song ends.) "Thank you very much." (Hannan gets up and leaves. It is worth noting that there is both laughter and applause at this point.) "Wasn't she great?!" (In fact, Hannan was not supposed to leave, but since she was recruited just before the show, and didn't know what piece she had gotten herself into, being a friendly, playful, adventuresome sort with a great smile. So, she left, thinking that was it.) (Invitation back up to the stage.) "Mademoiselle, si tu veux. Avec le globe ....." (Hannan comes back up).

(performer asks: "Est ce que tu veut...")

(Hannan speaks off-mic, performer relays: "She said, 'no hablo Francais.'") (Laughter).

"I am going to make a connection between fags and world war. That is the intention of the next song. I hope I do it justice. I attempt to do justice to a suicide bomber gesture in this piece. It is important to me. I apologize for the kind of educational system that is represented in this song. Learning happens around the trunks of trees, too, or on the street. .... Or in mental institutions. (pause.) Where did you learn?" (sound cues up). (It is "Hey Tony, by Alanis Morisette. This piece is a lip synch, with choreography.) (Performer goes center stage, takes off jacket, flips upside down so that feet are above head in the air, facing audience. A little yoga. sound cues up slowly.)

"Does anyone / remember Tony? / He was / a shy boy, a little overweight, / he was, dressed like a girl? " (Hannan rocks to the beginning of the song, with globe in her hand. She is both being characterized as Tony, and as the object of our adoration. Performer gestures in obvious essentialized gestures to the song. Not necessarily tight choreography, as an educator / the "I" of the song. So when the song says, "always did his homework" the performer opens an imaginary book and reads, and so on). "When he wasn't so busy being lonely / I'd look over his shoulder, at a map of the world...."

(Hannan responds to performers cues as fit, smiling). "He always finished all his homework. Raised his hand in homeroom (raises hand). early morning / attendance./ Pledge allegiance to the gloom. (now song goes to chorus.) Hey Tony / what's so good about dying? Think I'll do a little / dying today. Looked in the mirror saw that little faggot staring back, pulled out a gun, and blew himself away."

(performer is lying down, legs crossed like in front of a nice fire, near Hannan/Tony. It is a friendly fake-enactment of suicide / dying, to soften the blow that comes later.) "I hated every day of high school (performer holds up a sign that reads GRAD SCHOOL.) Funny I guess you did too. Tony, I never knew, there I was sitting right behind you. They wrote it in the local rag: ...." (reading on the stage) "DEATH COMES TO A LOCAL FAG."

"I guess you finally stopped believing that hope would ever find you / I knew that story I was / sitting right behind you..... Hey Tony..." (hitting stage now. dramatic.) "What's so good about dying? (asking Hannan), think I'll do a little / dying today./ Looked in the mirror saw that little faggot staring back. Pulled out a gun, and blew himself away." (performer does a little circling around Tony/Hannan, bowing and paying homage. Sending love to Tony and the globe.) "Hey Tony, what is so good about dying, thin I might do a little dying today. Looked in the mirror saw that little faggot staring back, pulled out a gun, and blew himself away......." (more hailing to Hannan / Tony. Song does this repeating of chorus)

"Hey Tony...." And then, END. Performers walk off stage.

(Laura returns to say, doesn't she have nice facial hair, and then introduces next performer).


A digital documentation of the entire June 2 event is available on video tape, via T. N. Hammidi. Peace out.


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